How to tackle al-Queda’s Re-branding…
Outside of the Abbottabadcompound

A moment in History:

Monday morning, May 2, 2011, the United States woke to jubilant news concerning a decade long struggle with the mastermind of an extreme ideology that has terrorized this country’s core values, beliefs, and norms.  News Organizations around the world have been running front page editions that document the death of Osama bin Laden.  The New York Times, Al Jazeera, and the BBC all chronicled the events that took place in the city of Abbottabad, in the Orash Valley of Pakistan, on May 1, 2011.  Social media has been ablaze as well, including the heralding of a new twitter star ; when @ReallyVirtual live tweeted about the helicopters flying over his city, Abbottabad, he went from 1,000 followers to nearly 72,000.

This most recent milestone in the ‘War on Terror’ certainly deserves the “unadulterated celebration” that comes with years of pain and huge costs in life.  But it also merits question about the potential future of an ideology that feeds on uncertainty, disillusionment, and the lack of welfare in developing societies.  What’s more, with a bin Laden leadership void, questions about the immediate potential power vacuum should not be overlooked either.  Daniel Byman, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said that “[p]redicting how a new leader will behave… always involves guesswork”.  This is particularly true as the organization faces fund raising hurdles, defines its survival process, and manages its evolution through ‘patterns of co-creation‘ with its environment.

These issues of methodology, structure, leadership, and concerns about the ecology of the new geographical landscape of an organization finding its footing in the short run, all elicit further questions about what shape a new brand of al-Queda will take going forward and how it should be met.  Martin Indyk, the director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, said that the al-Queda story as we knew it was “already very much in doubt in the Arab world” and that its “narrative… that violence was the way to redeem Arab honor and dignity… didn’t succeed in unseating anybody.”  The “Arab Spring” is recognition of this, as a young generation, very separate from al-Queda, voiced its “longings for dignity, justice and to control one’s own life“.

Re-branding Aid:

The implications of bin Laden’s death, the actual re-branding of the al-Queda organization, and the consequences of the “Arab Spring” all deserve continued attention in this brief period of adulation.  As al-Queda sympathizers grapple with their entitie’s way forward, it is valuable to assess the role that states, international organizations, charitable giving, and all other forms of development assistance will play in countering the al-Queda re-branding.  What role will foreign aid and assistance play in continuing to provide for safe and democratic development efforts in contrast to, what Thomas Friedman called, radical “Bin Ladenism“?  What resources will be needed to scale up institutional capacity to facilitate such efforts locally?  What level of financing, and in what scope, will be needed to sustain development efforts in the Arab world in contrast to fanatic ideologies?

The Aid community, starting with USAID and moving down the line of all other forms of development assistance, must be prepared to adapt with quality aid and take advantage of the al-Queda re-organization period.  The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, for instance, which is an authorization of appropriations bill that sets policy guidelines and parameters for USAID intervention in Pakistan, offers  the re-branding of aid in regards to al-Queda and the Arab world.  The programs and conditionality of the aid under this authorization act, which runs through 2014, require that certifiable progress be made by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.  Some of the focus areas for aid include funding for: stabilization, education, humanitarian and social assistance, and economic growth and governance.  The quality component of this assistance, being the intrinsic value of the dollar investment, applied effectively can yield long-term results in developing sustainable democratic institutions that will provide benefits that far out weigh anything a new “Bin Ladenism” offers.

Making the ‘New’ Aid effective:

The act also importantly provides the chance for analysis, not only of the type of aid, but the execution of that aid in an era of needed-flexibility.  The Act provides a good position from which to consider what Andrew Natsios understands to be the “disruptive tension” in formal aid agencies: “the clash between the compliance side of aid programs – the counter-bureaucracy – and the technical, programmatic side.”  Working out not only the role of foreign aid and assistance, but also its efficiency and leanness are vital in terms of adapting to a re-organizing al-Queda and changing Arab world.

In his 2010 essay “The Clash of Counter-bureaucracy and Development“, Natsios argues that “the counter-bureaucracy’s emphasis on easy measurement is at odds with the fact that transformational programs are often the least measurable and involve elements of risk and uncertainty.”  He says that the compliance officers tend to be focused on record keeping and documenting transactions as a means of alleviating risk and increasing “efficiency”.  This is in contrast to technical specialists, involved in the major “sector disciplines of development”, who implement the “high degree [of] risk” trans-formative programs needed to achieve local ownership-institution building-long term developments.

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, while it’s about half-way though its lifespan, is extremely young in the guise of determining successful development impact.  But as is the case in Natsios’s understanding of the counter-bureaucracy, the “Obsessive Measurement Disorder (OMD)” of the compliance side of aid is currently “counting” and producing more “control systems” to qualify the aid already.  The January 2011 Democracy and Governance Fact Sheet for Pakistan is ripe with the quantitative achievements of what has been accomplished for development in the short-term; for example the fact sheet sites the “Mobilization of more than 87,000 citizens for budget consultations with government officials” as a key accomplishment.  “Democracy” and “Governance” though are two of the harder to quantify sectors of aid.  This shot-term achievement, and the number of other quantifiable accomplishments listed, is not to say that such advancements are not wholly valuable, but their measurement does not tell the complete and longer story of building, strengthening, and sustaining the local institutions needed for the development of “poor and fragile states”.  The investment in aid is a long-term action.  In Pakistan, and the rest of the Arab world right now, stepping up long-term aid, with real development significance and not just measurable quantifiers could help move the scope of aid in a direction of quality outcomes.

Adaptability and the Long-run:

Nancy Birdsall, in an interview with John Dimsdall of Marketplace discussing the $7 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan, talked about how “aid has to be thought of as an investment over the long run for a stable, more prosperous Pakistan.”  She noted that aid should not be looked at as a “reward for good behavior,” and that it is an investment worth making “if it reduces the risk of spending billions later on security or on military intervention.”

Aid and foreign assistance, with a long-run outlook, based on quality outcomes seems like it can provide the means to continue to combat an organic-horizontal-holographic organization like al-Queda.  By making long-run investments in education, women’s empowerment, democracy building, and civil society, calculated not by the “counter-bureaucracies” quantitative metrics, but by its effectiveness in sustaining programs and institutions that build democratic societies, aid can respond to fanatical ideologies and support further development efforts going forward.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s